If your employer fired you for what they claimed was misconduct, you still may be able to collect unemployment benefits and possibly sue them for wrongful termination. After all, misconduct is not always easily defined; it’s often a matter of interpretation and degree. This is particularly true under Florida’s amended Unemployment Compensation Law, which redefined employee misconduct in 2011.
Misconduct and Unemployment Benefits
If you feel that you’ve been wrongfully terminated, you should consider contacting an unemployment law attorney before seeking unemployment benefits. An attorney can help determine if you may have committed misconduct, because, as mentioned, it’s not always easily definable.
For example, if you’ve been terminated for chronic absenteeism or tardiness, the number and length of absences will be considered, as will the need for your former employer to prove there was no just cause for the absences or that you did not provide sufficient notice. The same holds true for employers’ rules, which are often not consistently or fairly enforced. Finally, under Florida’s Unemployment Compensation Law, employee misconduct can occur outside of the workplace. But how is “conscious disregard of an employer’s interests” outside of the workplace defined?
If your former employer claims that you were terminated because of misconduct, you will likely be denied benefits and will have to file an appeal with the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity. However, you only have 20 days to file your appeal, so that’s why it could be in your best interest to contact an attorney around the time you file or even before.
Once your request is received, the Office of Appeals will schedule a hearing before an appeals referee. You will be notified when and where the hearing will take place and how you can submit evidence and witness testimony. During the hearing, the referee will review documents, ask questions, and decide on your appeal.
Your former employer will likely be represented by an attorney at the hearing, so it’s a good idea to consider representation as well. Your attorney can help you prepare all needed documents and, if possible, can gather expert witnesses on your behalf.
When the hearing ends, the referee will make a decision, and if he/she rules in your favor, you may want to consider talking to your attorney about a wrongful termination suit against your former employer.
Moving Forward With a Wrongful Termination Suit
The standard for determining eligibility for unemployment benefits and the issues involved in making that determination are often very different. You may be awarded benefits, but not have a wrongful termination claim. You may be denied benefits and find that you have a very strong claim that your termination was otherwise unlawful. You and your attorney will evaluate the facts and law outside the constraints of the “misconduct” standard imposed under the unemployment laws. If you do have a viable basis to challenge your termination, you will follow the procedures of a wrongful termination claim. For example, you will first have to file with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the Florida Commission on Human Relations (FCHR). However, Florida is an at-will employment state, so even if you were awarded unemployment benefits, your former employer may claim that they fired you for a lawful reason.
One example of when you may be able to claim wrongful termination falls under subsection (e) of Florida’s Unemployment Compensation Law—violation of an employer’s rule. If the employer’s rule is not lawful—for example, it violates the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s safety rules—then you may be able to prove that you were working under unsafe conditions and move forward with a suit.
If you feel that you were unfairly denied unemployment benefits or wrongfully terminated through no fault of your own, it may be in your best interest to contact an unemployment law attorney. For more information on wrongful termination, please download our free Wrongful Termination: When Firing Is Illegal guide.